One of the treats that immediately set apart the first version of Android from Apple’s iOS software (besides the notification center invoked with a pulldown gesture) is the pattern unlock feature on the lock screen. Whereas Apple opted for a slide gesture (“We wanted something you couldn’t do by accident in your pocket”, said Steve Jobs at the iPhone unveiling), Android introduced a concept of drawing a custom shape to unlock your device.

And while some Android manufacturers replace this built-in capability with their own enhanced solutions, pattern unlock is in fact a norm on most Android phones. Apple, of course, patented its Slide to Unlock thing and yesterday the United States Patent & Trademark Office granted the search giant a patent for Android pattern unlock.

Titled “Touch Gesture Actions From A Device’s Lock Screen”, it summarizes Android’s trademark capability:

A lock screen view is displayed on the mobile device to prevent unauthorized and inadvertent access to the mobile device’s data. While the mobile device is locked, a touch gesture having a pre-defined shape is detected on a touch screen of the mobile device independently of the initial position of the touch gesture on the touch screen.

The patent goes on to detail custom gestures which can be drawn anywhere without even looking at the lock screen, allowing you to quickly access certain functions while keeping the device locked, like with HTC’s Sense 3.0 software shown in the below clip. Google explains custom gestures can be used to, say, silence the device while keeping it discretely hidden from view.

The document continues:

In response to detection of the touch gesture, a particular action is executed on the mobile device while the mobile device stays locked. The particular action determined according to the pre-defined shape. In this way, detection of the touch gesture causes the particular action to execute while keeping the mobile device locked.

Google was also granted another patent titled “Automatic Derivation of Analogous Touch Gestures From A User-Defined Gesture” (patent ID: 20110279384) which specifically details methods to decipher custom gestures drawn anywhere on the lock screen, regardless of their shape, size, position, etc . The search company credits James B. Miller et all with the pattern unlock invention. To retrieve additional information, type in a patent number of 20110283241 into the USPTO search engine here. Another drawing from the patent grant is right after the break.

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